Future of Margaret River Gourmet Escape in Royalties for Regions limbo

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Margaret River Gourmet Escape launch at Castle Bay Beach, Dunsborough.
Camera IconMargaret River Gourmet Escape launch at Castle Bay Beach, Dunsborough. Credit: Mogens Johansen

WA’s new Tourism Minister Paul Papalia has confirmed doubt hangs over the future of the Margaret River Gourmet Escape, which has been hauled into Labor’s review of Royalties for Regions funding amid contentious debate about the festival’s real contribution to the Capes’ economy.

Mr Papalia confirmed this November’s festival would be the last one held under the second of two three-year contracts brokered between IMG Culinary and the former Liberal-National State government.

“Tourism WA is currently assessing a proposal by the organisers about funding the event into future,” he said.

“When assessing any event, the McGowan Government has a responsibility to ensure taxpayers’ dollars are spent in the most cost-efficient manner that guarantees return on investment.”

The debate occurs amid ongoing speculation and some complaints from Capes small producers who believe big international firms are using the region, taxpayer funding, vendors and volunteers to promote their own wares with little flow-on benefit.

VideoSome of the world's best chefs are in town for the Margaret River Gourmet Escape.

Asked about the possibility of funding a more grassroots WA-led showcase — long argued for by Margaret River-based former Tasting Australia boss Ian Parmenter — the minister reiterated support for small producers that could foreshadow further steps to address perceived shortcomings in the Gourmet Escape’s appeal to everyday punters.

“We believe the food and wine from the South West is world-class,” Mr Papalia said.

“We are always looking at ways to hero the local produce and increase visitor numbers.”

IMG event director Katrina King defended the Gourmet Escape, saying modelling showed $9.1 million was pumped into the region’s economy last year, and negotiations were set on securing another three-year contract.

“IMG does not currently have plans to take Margaret River Gourmet Escape to another location and we’re excited about how the 2017 Festival is shaping up,” Ms King said.

When assessing any event, the McGowan Government has a responsibility to ensure taxpayers’ dollars are spent in the most cost-efficient manner that guarantees return on investment.

Paul Papalia

IMG has previously rebuffed rumours it would relocate the Escape to Perth’s Swan Valley — a region Mr Papalia last week said would benefit from a renewed strategic review of tourism priorities to increase visitor spending by $132,000 in the next three years.

“Our goal continues to be to drive national and international recognition of the Margaret River region as a leading food and beverage destination and leverage this success for other areas of economic growth,” Ms King said.

“The reach of the Margaret River Gourmet Escape nationally and internationally continues to grow.

“And in 2016, the reach of national media coverage was 33.75 million (people) and international reach was a staggering 165 million.”

VideoFood Editor Rob Broadfield shows us how to make a truffle toastie at home.

Vasse MLA and shadow tourism minister Libby Mettam questioned Mr Papalia in Parliament on Wednesday and told the Times the minister “refused to commit” to the event.

Mrs Mettam said the “internationally recognised” festival had to be funded or “lost to another region”.

The Escape will include the Margaret River Wine Industry’s 50th anniversary celebrations this year.

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